BEIRUT

Middle East

Barrel bomb offensive on Aleppo kills dozens

Residents flee after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Dahra Awad neighborhood of Aleppo February 2, 2014. (REUTERS/Hosam Katan)

BEIRUT: Syrian military helicopters dropped more “barrel bombs” on the northern city of Aleppo Sunday, a monitoring group said, bringing the death toll to well over 100 people in the latest episode of a campaign that many consider a war crime.

Most of the victims killed since Friday have been civilians from the city’s eastern districts, including women and children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a broad network of sources across Syria.

Amateur videos posted online by opposition media activists showed scenes of panic from aerial bombardments – 36 people were killed Sunday while 90 casualties were reported Saturday by the Observatory.

The strikes also targeted a headquarters of the Al-Qaeda-affiliate the Nusra Front in Aleppo, and killed eight of the group’s fighters, the Observatory said.

The use of barrel bombs – oil drums or cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel – has drawn international condemnation, not least from Western powers at last week’s peace talks in Switzerland.

The first round of negotiations wound up Friday without progress toward ending Syria’s three-year civil war or reducing the violence.

Western powers proposed a U.N. Security Council resolution in December to condemn the use of barrel bombs, which they say indiscriminately target civilians. The weapons have killed well over 700 people in Syria in the past six weeks.

But Russia, an ally of President Bashar Assad, has repeatedly blocked such plans in the Security Council.

Syrian authorities say they are targeting the rebels who control large portions of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and once its business hub.

In one video, a young man carries the limp body of a child through a wrecked residential neighborhood whose buildings are barely discernible through thick clouds of white dust. Dazed children shield their faces with their shirts as a man leads two screaming women covered in soot away from the apparent site of the attack.

Another video shows barrel bombs falling from the sky – small black dots that fall through the air before erupting in flames and thick gray smoke.

Other videos show men pulling a girl from under the remains of a building said to have been destroyed by bombing.

The Observatory said there was heavy congestion at a checkpoint in a southwestern neighborhood after the government closed it to traffic, preventing residents from fleeing the bombardment and related clashes further east.

The military also used barrel bombs in the suburbs of the capital Damascus over the weekend and carried out conventional shelling and airstrikes in several other cities and villages around the country, the Observatory and other activists said.

Their reports could not be independently confirmed.

Rebels from the mainstream Free Syrian Army in the southern province of Deraa, where the first protests of the Syrian revolution broke out in 2011, announced advances in a new battle they called “Geneva-Hawran,” named jointly after the Swiss peace talks and a region in southern Syria.

In an online video statement, a rebel leader said fighters had seized several checkpoints from government forces, destroyed a few of their tanks and inflicted casualties.

A news bulletin on Syrian state television said the army had killed “several terrorists” in the same area, including five fighters from other Arab countries. Firas al-Hawrani, a spokesman for the offensive, told Al-Arabiya television the battle was intended to support the Western-backed opposition that attended negotiations in Geneva.

“It is an expression of support for the Syrian opposition that is waging war against this tyrannical regime and is trying to convince the world that the regime does not understand the language of politics. It only understands the language of war,” he said.

In the north, militants from the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seized control of an area on the Turkish border called Rai, the Observatory said.

ISIS freed more than 400 people from a prison in the area who had been held by the rival Islamist Tawhid Brigade unit, and clashes between the two groups continued nearby, according to the monitoring group.

And in Aleppo, a twin car bomb attack widely blamed on ISIS by both pro- and anti-Al-Qaeda activists targeted a headquarters of the Tawhid Brigade and killed senior leader Adnan Bakkour, said Rami Abdel-Rahman of the Observatory.

ISIS also killed another prominent commander of another rebel brigade Saturday, the Observatory said.

Analyst Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center said the killing of Abu Hussein al-Dik of the powerful Suqour al-Sham Brigade showed that the Islamic State was targeting key headquarters, “strategic checkpoints and senior influential commanders.”

In the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, ISIS seized the Koniko gas field from the Nusra Front and other Islamist rebels who had controlled it for several weeks after wresting it from tribal gunmen.

Fighting between ISIS and rebel factions seeking to push it out of opposition-held swathes of northern and eastern Syria initially led to a rollback of ISIS dominance late last year in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib.

But as the conflict has raged on, ISIS has retaken some areas. Both sides have lost more than 1,400 fighters to clashes and suicide car bombs.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 03, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Syrian military helicopters dropped more "barrel bombs" on the northern city of Aleppo Sunday, a monitoring group said, bringing the death toll to well over 100 people in the latest episode of a campaign that many consider a war crime.

Amateur videos posted online by opposition media activists showed scenes of panic from aerial bombardments – 36 people were killed Sunday while 90 casualties were reported Saturday by the Observatory.

The strikes also targeted a headquarters of the Al-Qaeda-affiliate the Nusra Front in Aleppo, and killed eight of the group's fighters, the Observatory said.

ISIS freed more than 400 people from a prison in the area who had been held by the rival Islamist Tawhid Brigade unit, and clashes between the two groups continued nearby, according to the monitoring group.

And in Aleppo, a twin car bomb attack widely blamed on ISIS by both pro- and anti-Al-Qaeda activists targeted a headquarters of the Tawhid Brigade and killed senior leader Adnan Bakkour, said Rami Abdel-Rahman of the Observatory.

As the conflict has raged on, ISIS has retaken some areas.


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